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Big data offers relief for warehouse quandary

Posted: 22 Dec 2014 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:warehouse? big data? distribution centre? analytics?

While there is a certain degree of challenge in leveraging big data, advantages in doing so certainly outweigh the disadvantages. Truth be told, there is a way to assimilate big data analytics in your operations without having to deal with over-blown complexities. A number of real-life case reveal how big data can untangle and incorporate seemingly unrelated masses of data to solve small but costly problems in any warehouse or distribution centre.

Take the example of a distribution centre in Florida that struggled with a high number of forklift truck impacts. Although a telematics solution (iWarehouse by The Raymond Corp.) had been installed, the cause of the impacts could not be determined. The company knew the time and location of impacts as well as the identity of the drivers involved, but still needed to pull in more data sources for an effective assessment.

By analysing the link between environmental factors inside the distribution centre and the forklift impact records, the culprit was swiftly identified: fast-moving thunderstorms that caused the humidity level to rise so quickly that the dehumidifiers could not keep up, increasing the risk of drivers losing control on the slippery concrete floor. That knowledge helped the company and Raymond prevent sliding accidents by using a function of the telematics solution to reduce the maximum speed of the trucks when the humidity hit a certain level.

Big data for warehouses

Organisations should apply big data analytics across multiple sources of data to uncover patterns that will drive operational improvements on warehouses.

As this example illustrates, a distribution centre or warehouse presents an ideal environment, a microcosm, for big data applications. Modern facilities are loaded with sensors and detectors to track every pallet and every piece of material handling equipment in real-time. Managers see the benefits in increased productivity, improved inventory flow, optimised equipment usage and more. However, for that Eureka moment, organisations should also apply big data analytics across these multiple sources of data to uncover patterns that will drive even more, and perhaps surprising, operational improvements.

Rather than looking at data in isolation, a holistic approach holds significantly more power. Managers typically keep careful track of the performance of lift trucks, batteries and chargers. But it is not until those entities are reviewed as a single system and matched with data coming off the lift trucks that a new level of revelations can be had. As one provider of battery management technologies tells DC Velocity, "organisations may match up the activity of a truck powered by a particular battery with that battery's performance to find out whether one is affecting the other."

Look for big data analytics to further raise the IQ of our "smart" warehouses and DCs.

Inbound Logistics sums it up this way: "Accessing the right information to make smart decisions in the warehouse is one main reason why the demand for big data has grown so much, and so rapidly, in the distribution sector."

Do you think DC and warehouse managers do enough to leverage big data?

- Frank Cavallaro

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